Michael Strahan, Sunny Anderson, and Renée Montagne have
something in common — their fathers all were military officers. Strahan would
go on to have a legendary career in the NFL. Anderson landed a gig on Food
Network — after her own time in uniform. Montagne served as the longtime host
of NPR’s Morning Edition and has received journalism awards for her
overseas reporting. Though their career paths vary, all three credit their
success to things they learned as military “brats” (a term of endearment
embraced by most military families). Here’s a look at how their often
unpredictable childhoods set them on a path to success.
NFL legend Michael Strahan on Army officer dad: He’s my life
Before Michael Strahan was competing in Super Bowls and getting inducted
into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he was crashing soldiers’ physical training
“As a 7-year-old
kid, I remember running with my dad’s platoon as they did their morning
training,” Strahan says. “…The
military culture definitely played a role in my career and athleticism.”
a former defensive end who played 15 seasons with the New York Giants, spent
his childhood on Army bases in places like Mannheim, Germany, and Fort Bragg,
N.C. His father, Gene, is a retired major and former boxer who Strahan says
takes pride in his family and his Army career.
dad is the hardest working man I know and he never complains,”
Strahan says. “He instilled in me at an early age the power of a strong work
ethic. He taught me that I could achieve anything I set my mind
who co-hosts ABC’s Good Morning America
and appears as an analyst on Fox NFL
Sunday, shared how growing up in a military family helped shape his
personality and career. Excerpts of that interview, edited for clarity, follow:
should people know about your father and his commitment to service?
My dad is my biggest role model. I admire the way he raised my
siblings and I to understand the importance of hard work
and perseverance. He never let us give up on anything growing up.
remember when I first started playing football as a kid, I hated it,
but my dad always reminded me that when I signed up to play, I
was committing to my team — something bigger than myself. If I
quit, I wouldn’t only be letting myself down, but my team, too. He taught
me that respect, responsibility, and loyalty are earned through actions rather
this mentality has truly helped shape me into the person I am today and
for that, I will always be grateful.
Q. Can you recall a specific lesson he taught you that still
A. When I was growing up, I really wanted a
BMX bike. The bike cost over $1,000 and instead of buying it for me, my
dad made a deal with me that if I could make half the money, he’d pay
for the other half.
the summer mowing lawns, walking dogs, and babysitting until I earned
enough money to pay for half the bike. I still have the bike and to
this day, it is one of my most prized possessions.
similarities do you see between the military and football communities?
A. Growing up, my father was my life coach. I looked at him for
guidance and leadership, much the same way I looked at my coaches in the NFL.
Both my father and my coaches helped me — and continue to help me — navigate my
[are] communities that operate like a family. The military base I grew up on in
Germany was very tight-knit. My friends’ parents were like my second parents. I
would never try to get away with stuff growing up because I felt like I had eyes
on me everywhere I went!
back, it was a blessing to be cared for and loved by such a great community. It
was very similar in the NFL when I played. My teammates were my brothers. We
not only looked out for each other on the field, but off the field as well.
Q. How has your dad influenced your parenting style?
A. In a lot of different ways. Everything he ever taught us or
did for us was rooted in love. I want to make sure my kids
always feel loved the same way my father continues to make me feel [loved].
also taught me that success is earned instead of delivered. I am
incredibly proud of all of my kids and the incredible young people they
are. I’m continually amazed by their achievements, but more
importantly, I am inspired by the way they treat others and the way they
Q. Did your dad’s career as a boxer and a
soldier contribute to your own athleticism?
It did. I spent a lot of time in the gym watching my father train and push my
older brothers. Having three older brothers also helped because it made me try
to keep up.
military culture and lifestyle is very active and that is a great thing for
helping someone develop into an athlete.
Q. Are people surprised to learn you grew up in a military family?
A. I think
people are surprised to find out that I was raised on a base in
Germany because they expect to hear that I grew up playing football
and that I was always on the path to play in the NFL. In reality, outside
of community leagues, I didn’t play football until I was a
senior in high school!
Q. How did your background help prepare the
switch from professional sports to broadcasting?
Growing up in a military family taught me the most important lesson of all,
which is adapting to changing environments. I learned to live and do whatever
was necessary to thrive in whatever environment I found myself. Hard work,
teamwork, and the importance of serving others are other characteristics
that I’ve tried to carry with me in my career.
Q. Do you still find that you connect with
other people who were raised in military families?
It’s always really cool when I meet other people who also grew up in a
military family, and we can compare stories of growing up on bases around the
world. Once you meet someone who grew up in a situation similar to yours, it
seems like you're in a fraternity and can immediately relate.
Q. What did you
love most about being in a military family? Was there anything you
A. I loved the sense of community that existed growing up in
a military family. By growing up on a military base in Germany, I was able to
meet a lot of amazing people from all over, and it gave me a better sense
of the world.
up abroad also gave me the confidence to not fear traveling the world and
exploring. I didn't hate anything about being in a military family, but there
is no other country like the U.S.
Q. What advice do you have for today’s generation
of military kids?
A. Enjoy and embrace changes even though it isn't easy to move
and switch environments, schools, and friends. Adapt and always consider the
positive. Work extremely hard to become whatever you want to be in life,
because if I can create my life coming from a military base in Germany, you can
life gave Food Network’s Sunny Anderson a taste for cooking
When Sunny Anderson ordered a grilled cheese sandwich in
Europe as a kid, she wasn’t expecting to be served melted white Gouda on fancy
“It blew my mind,” she says. “… I know
it was a turning point because I can’t even remember ever eating anything
Anderson, now a host on Food Network’s The Kitchen, is the daughter of a retired
Army colonel. As her family moved between places like Germany, Texas, and
Georgia, Anderson says she realized “food has no real boundaries.”
That inspired Anderson to start a
catering company, which eventually landed her on Food Network. But first, she
carried on what she calls “the family business” by enlisting in the Air Force.
“I know I work really hard as an adult
and am happy with my work as an adult because of seeing my dad come home and
always being excited and inspired by his job,” she says.
The former senior airman credits the
broadcast chops she picked up in the Air Force — along with the values she
picked up from her military family — with helping launch her career. Excerpts of that interview, edited for
What kind of values do you think you picked up as a kid from seeing your dad
serve in the Army?
much. No matter what my dad’s rank was, he called his soldiers his coworkers.
He was very civilian-like in that [respect], which I found really neat because
the military has this outward connotation of being so hard and stringent. It
was so neat to be within it and just see a really nice guy. That really opened
my eyes to understanding that the job is what you make it — that it’s not
always what people think it is from the outside.
I also learned a lot from watching my
mom support a military member. He would go to the field, and she would hold
down the fort at home.
Did that influence your decision to join the Air Force?
was really all I knew. Growing up overseas, sometimes one of the only
connection we had to the States was Armed Forces Network. I remember depending
on it to feel connected and not so alone.
When I figured out in high school that
working in communications was something I wanted to do, I had plans to go to
college. But I really didn’t want to spend years waiting to get into my
specific career field, so my dad suggested I join the Air Force. The beauty of
the military was, for this career, I knew I would go through a faster training
period, and that I could begin doing what I loved immediately.
How did your training help prepare you for your role on Food Network?
did everything. I just don’t know what I would do without it.
Defense Information School taught me
about editing, writing, appearing on-camera, producing, and public affairs.
Even though it was back in the analog age, I still retain and use that training
to this day. I’m just so happy that I have that foundation.
And what about cooking? What did moving around teach you about food?
is exciting, because when you order something and you think you know what
you’re going to get, you really don’t. It’s all up to the interpretation of the
person making it.
One of the things I loved about the
military as a kid and an adult is that I got to get off base and explore. I
could go out, try new things, and meet new people. And when it comes to food, I
think being willing to try something new culinary-wise makes you a more open
What was your favorite place to live?
think as a kid, it was Germany. My parents loved to travel, so we went
everywhere. It sounds so lofty and fancy to say that you got to travel around
Europe, but it’s so not. We were stuck, so what are you going to do? You just
When I was in the service, I loved
South Korea I think for the same reasons I loved Germany: I got to get off base
What do you think you learned from moving around all the time?
think the more you travel, the more compassionate you become. And I think
military kids really understand the role of the military overseas.
Many people never think about the
military — it’s not a fault, it’s just reality. But I think when you grew up in
it, and then you end up joining it, you really get to see what it’s all about.
How did those experiences influence your decision to become a chef?
started my catering company because my friends wouldn’t let me not cook. [laughs] I really didn’t want to cook,
so I started charging my friends, because I thought that if I started putting a
price on it, they’d stop asking. I’d tell them, ‘I don’t have time to be making
you mac and cheese all the time.’ When that didn’t work, I figured I’d just
make it into a business.
I think cooks just want to make
everyone happy. It’s easy to figure people out with food — everyone likes to
eat. And I just want to share what I love, which is food and traveling, so
hopefully I inspire people to get out there and cook, travel, and try new
You’ve had some book stops at military bases. What do you hear from military
members about your work?
hear from a lot of moms and dads who are surprised cooking can be so easy. I
feel really good about my pantry, because I cook with ingredients that aren’t
hard to find, but can still be used to make international flavors. You can
without going to a German market.
Another thing that’s really cool about
going to military bases is that people know that I’m a veteran and a brat, and
they’re just so happy to see someone who “made it.” I’m really proud of that,
especially because the military helped train me for what I’m still doing today.
The military has played a big role of your life. What is your advice for
today’s military families?
tell the kids it’s OK if they feel like they don’t belong. Just when I’d get
comfortable in a new place, we’d move, and I’d be the new kid again. Because of
that, though, as an adult, there isn’t a room that I walk into where I can’t
talk to everyone.
And if they get to travel, I would also
tell them to soak it up. It’s something they’ll get to brag about later in
I would tell the parents to go easy on
their kids. If you think it’s difficult to move, realize that it’s difficult
for your kids as well. One of the best things my parents did was as soon as my
dad got his orders, they’d sit down and say, ‘this is where we’re going,’ and
they’d have information about the area and local customs. Involve your kids in
I’d also tell military parents that when
you move, please stop throwing your kids toys out just to make weight. [laughs]
Montagne’s military officer dad survived the attack on Pearl Harbor. Here’s
what he taught her.
Renée Montagne was the new kid in school 13 times, so she
has some practice walking into the unknown.
“As a journalist, that’s enormously
helpful,” she says. “I would walk in as an outsider, so I came in objectively,
and I could look around at all 30 kids … with new eyes.”
Before she was the longtime cohost of
NPR’s Morning Edition, Montagne moved
from one Marine Corps base to another. Her dad, Arthur "Bud"
Montagne, was a retired Marine major and prior-enlisted sailor. Then-Radioman 2nd
Class Montagne was aboard battleship USS California
(BB-44) in Hawaii Dec. 7, 1941, when a pair of torpedoes ripped through the
port side of his ship.
He survived the attack. His best friend
Bud Montagne later served in the Korean
War where he earned a Bronze Star before becoming a Marine Corps officer and engineer,
taking his family to Hawaii, California, Arizona, and Virginia. He died in 2011
at the age of 90.
Having grown up around Marine Corps
officers, Montagne says she was glad when journalists began embedding with
troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, so they could see what the military’s officer
corps was all about.
“They have this vast range of knowledge
and were asked to do this vast range of contradictory things: Be diplomats but
also be fighters. Be builders and destroyers,” she says. “In many cases, it was
extremely impressive — but it didn’t surprise me.”
Here’s what she learned from her dad
and other Marine Corps officers. Excerpts
of that interview, edited for clarity, follow:
Your dad survived Pearl Harbor before you were born. Did he talk about that
did, but for this reason: He met my mother at a dance two nights before he
shipped out. He fell in love at first sight, and when he saw her one more time
before he left, it was just long enough to ask her to marry him. My mother
said, “of course,” and he took it quite seriously.
He and his best friend, Joe, nearly missed getting on the USS California. They shipped out in
October, and they arrived in Hawaii just before the attack. When he got to
Hawaii, he bought my mom a ring and shipped it to her. It finally made it there
five months later, but they lost touch. He later tracked her down and traveled
all the way to Virginia to visit her — of course now he’s not a young sailor
anymore, he’s a 25-year-old Marine in uniform. My mother, who was wearing that
ring when he got there, would laugh and say that he looked much better — that
he was much improved. [laughs] So
that was the story we used to hear.
You later interviewed him about his experiences and looked through some letters
he had sent home from the Pacific. What was that like?
was a beautiful experience. I wish everyone could do with their family. My
father didn’t ever talk much about the attack itself or any pain associated
with it. He didn’t look back. He always had his eye on the future.
In 2001, the movie Pearl Harbor was about to come out, and I joked with the staff at
NPR that my parents had a much better story. So I
interviewed my father, and for three hours, and he told me
details about the attack that I had never heard before. Some were too horrible
My father was on the admiral’s deck,
which is why he survived and the other radiomen below died. They were the last
people off the ship, but in the meantime, they were seeing people being pulled
up from below. Once they left the ship, he had to swim through deep water under
flaming oil. I don’t think people knew how much fire there was. In the days
that followed, he went looking for his friend Joe through all these burn units,
but he had died.
Did you ever go back to Pearl Harbor with your dad?
did. We went on Dec. 7, 2001, so it was just a couple months after the 9/11
attacks. The hotels along Waikiki Beach in Honolulu had offered free hotel
rooms to first responders and other New Yorkers affected by the attacks as a
way of giving them some relief.
So instead of being filled with
80-year-old men in their veteran’s caps, Honolulu was filled with survivors and
family members of Sept. 11 victims. We had just had this other attack, and it
was just so touching and relevant.
Since he served in both sea services, which did you father identify with most?
was a Marine to the end. He was supposed to be commissioned in the Navy, but
had been so impressed by the Marines in World War II that he made the switch.
What kind of values did you pick up from him and other Marines in your life?
Definitely honesty, valor, and a strong sense of duty to the country. In the
officer corps especially, they embrace those values. I grew up knowing that you
do anything for fellow Marines, and that you care for each other. Once Marines
join your unit, they belong to you. You might have been strangers before, but
now they are your Marines, and you’d do anything for them.
How do you think your upbringing influenced your reporting style?
really think moving around a lot fully set me up to do what I do.
I developed a permanent interest in the
outside world early on. Even as a small child, I was continually injected into
new situations where I had to get the lay of the land. Moving from school to
school where I didn’t know any of the kids going in gave me a certain ability
to walk into different situations and see the different points of view. As a
journalist, that’s all very helpful, since a lot of things are thrown at me
that I basically just found out about that day.
How did growing up around Marines help inform your reporting on the military?
probably had a personal comfort level around military leaders that I might not
have if I didn’t have a family feel for it. I’ve always been proud of my
military family background and include it on my résumé. Some leaders would find
out about that and acknowledge it. When I would interview Gen. John Kelly, USMC
(Ret), in Afghanistan, he would ask, “How is your Marine dad?” and I would say,
“Oh, fine — how are your Marine sons?” It was our “hello,” because we had that
In fact, General Kelly once sent my dad
a flag that had flown over Fallujah, Iraq, along with a beautiful letter. He
thought to do that, I certainly didn’t ask him to. But my father had the flag
framed with the letter underneath it, and it became one of his most precious
What’s your impression of today’s generation of military kids as they watch
their parents deploy to combat zones?
feel for them. These are unique experiences for military families with these
two long wars. This generation of military kids really grew up with continuous
combat deployments. When I was growing up, we didn’t have all of these wars. My
dad served in Korea before I was born, he didn’t deploy to Vietnam, and now
we’re seeing women deploy and leave their children behind, too.
Kids now have so much of a sacrifice to
make. Some of them have two parents in the military who are deploying, and
they’re being asked to be brave as they watch this. They throw back their
shoulders and stand up tall even though they don’t get to see their mom or dad
for months on end. Some are also seeing their parents change because of the
wars. I think my experience was a much less fraught experience than these kids